August 20, 1991

Tuesday – Marlene is going to come here by bus and we are going to have fun. (she will come Friday and stay ’till Monday). We will go to Fairview and movies and La Ronde.

                                    I love how determined I was to have fun. I sound like an android. “We WILL accomplish this thing you call fun.” FYI, Fairview is a mall, and La Ronde an amusement park.

Speaking of La Ronde. My brother came into my room this morning saying he was going to La Ronde with his friend (he borrowed 20 bucks) so he wasn’t here to let in Bob (our stupid worker dude who is putting a third bathroom in our house) so I was sleeping and in my dream the doorbell rings and the other girl goes to get it and it keeps ringing and I slowly drift awake and hear the doorbell, by the time I figured out what was going on it stopped ringing. I fell back asleep again and then net time I woke up I think it was mom who came in the house. I fell asleep again and what woke me up this time (at 2:00 p.m.) was music so loud I thought the singer was in my room! I heard Bob and his little helper singing along (ooh, my ears!) then it sounded like they were in the kitchen eating or something. Like what are we paying them for?! Anyway, Bob the idiot doesn’t know I’m here and I don’t want him to, so I’ll stay upstairs and sneak around as best I can. I’m starved, oh well, I need to go on a diet anyway, and need to use the bathroom but I want to wait ’till they are in the garage and it doesn’t seem to be happening. Gosh, I hate this, why do I have so many goddamned problems?

                              I was cringing in pain as I transcribed this, but then the lament about having so many problems made me laugh. So here’s the deal: I’ve got social anxiety, but as a kid I didn’t know what it was. I just knew I was afraid of people. I was deeply ashamed of it, but afraid nonetheless. And because I didn’t understand what it was about, it was all the worse. I sound like a spoiled brat, hiding in my room, sleeping in until all hours, refusing to open the door for our contractor, forcing my mother to leave work to do it, and from an outside perspective I can see how ridiculous it seems. But I didn’t remain hidden because I was bratty, I was truly afraid. Afraid of what, you might ask? Any interaction that I wasn’t prepared for. I was panic-stricken and frozen in fear.

Even today I do silly things like this. As recently as a month ago I was in the bathroom taking selfies when the doorbell rang. I knew my significant other was home so I let him answer it. (I don’t answer doors when I’m alone unless I’m expecting a delivery). It was our contractor and he came in and proceeded to have an unnecessarily lengthy conversation with my SO. I figured I’d wait them out but… after half an hour it became ridiculous. They were right outside the bathroom door so I knew I’d startle the contractor if I suddenly appeared, but it felt equally awkward to stay hidden. I chose to stay hidden, and basically stared at myself, chastising myself for being so weird as I waited for him to leave. Oh well. Some things never change.

School starts the 28th. Maybe something good will happen then, maybe I’ll be popular and have a great boyfriend. SIGH.

                             I guess I still do this sort of thing too, i.e., hope for the impossible. Every time we hire someone new at work (which happens shockingly often) I think maybe it’ll be someone totally awesome and we’ll become fast friends and conquer the world together. But then it just turns out to be another utterly normal human being and I’m disappointed again. Still, I’ve made some progress. I’m much more capable now of enjoying the company of normal humans than I was when I was a teenager.

Purple & Peach

Peach is a little bit orange, a little bit pink. A refreshing fruit smoothie on a hot summer day. Purple is the intersection of blue and red, and carries all the intellectual superiority of blue, with all the dangerous passion of red, making purple an arrogant elitist of the highest order.

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Purple doesn’t like to share the spotlight, but Peach comes in as a friendly, unassuming friend, and promptly takes over, turning Purple into nothing but an accessory, as in the outfit above. Purple is, of course, aghast at first, but then realizes this is a chance to relax for a bit. She doesn’t always have to be in charge.

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These two won’t spend a long time together though, because Purple can only be ignored for so long. She will come to resent Peach’s bubbly dominance, and push her to the side. Purple isn’t used to competition, she sees herself as a de facto winner. Peach is amused by this resentment and plays along for a while, pretending to be surprised, but eventually she will move on without putting up too much of a fight, because she’s got better things to do with her time, like spread joy wherever she goes. If Purple can’t appreciate that, it’s none of Peach’s concern.

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Am I a bad friend?

When I was about fourteen, my best friend Charlotte was jealous when I went on a summer vacation to Europe with my family. When I got back I never called her, even though I kept telling myself I should. The reason I didn’t call had nothing to do with her jealousy, or my feelings for her, I’m simply afflicted with social anxiety. Picking up the phone has always been, and continues to be, extremely difficult for me, even if I deeply care about the person on the other end of the line. I figured that when we got back to school in the fall, our friendship would pick up where it had left off. I was wrong. Instead of welcoming me back with open arms, Charlotte ghosted me, or did the 1990 version thereof. She basically ignored me until I got the hint and stopped trying to talk to her. She had found new, cooler, friends to hang out with and I wasn’t worthy anymore. I had been friend-dumped.

This wasn’t surprising to me. She’d always been a bit on the shallow side and she’d clearly found a step up by ingratiating herself with the cool kids over the summer. What’s more interesting is that being friend-dumped wasn’t particularly distressing for me. I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t really upset at losing Charlotte. When I say she was my best friend, I mean it in the sense that she was the person I spent the most time with, not in the sense that I cared about her most, or really at all. I actually found the entire situation fascinating. That someone could be so determined to increase their social standing that they would enact such cruelty upon a one-time friend was rather intriguing to me. And I was forced to ask, as I ask again now, what exactly is friendship?

I’ve heard people say that in childhood friendship is 90% proximity, but I would say that holds true at any age. We are “friends” with the people we spend most time with, and for most of us that means our schoolmates or coworkers. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, provided we have any genuine interest in these people. Google defines friend as a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. So the keywords here are “mutual affection”.

Did Charlotte and I have mutual affection for one another? I can’t say. I think we both used each other because of the convenience more than anything else. Neither of us had many other friends at that time. I don’t really have that many memories of her, so I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed her company, or her mine. I don’t know if I was a bad friend, or if she was. Was she being a mean girl by ghosting me or did I begin the ghosting by never calling after that summer holiday?

I’m still neglectful towards my friends even today. But this isn’t due to a lack of interest so much as a lack of energy. As an introvert, I only have so much energy in any given day for social interaction. A few years ago I shared an office with a woman who was going through a divorce. We became friends because of, you guessed it, proximity, and she confided in me about everything going on in her life. I didn’t mind hearing these things and I genuinely liked her as a person, but my god, was she exhausting. When she moved on to another job I didn’t bother to maintain the friendship. I still feel bad about this, and worry that she thinks I don’t like her, but honestly, I just couldn’t handle the amount of work it took to be her friend.

But even when I do want to maintain friendships, I put no effort towards doing so. Social anxiety prevents me from reaching out to people, and introversion limits the amount of time I spend with them. In my adult life, I’d say my only friends are my colleagues. I like them, and care about them, and we often have lengthy conversations, but these conversations usually revolve around office gossip. Does this still count as friendship? Sometimes we get together outside of work, so that counts as friendship, right?  Yet I’m also aware that these same people see each other outside of work much more often without me. Does this mean they like each other more than they like me? Perhaps. Or perhaps they’ve learned enough about me not to invite me to things I wouldn’t enjoy.

I recently felt pangs of envy and self-pity when I saw two colleagues go out for lunch together, and wondered where my invite had been. But then I remembered all the times I’d turned down lunch invites and realized that I was my own worst enemy, if my goal was to be queen BFF. I reminded myself that friendship is a responsibility, and one that I usually can’t handle.

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So I’m a bad friend, right? Well, I guess this depends on your definition of friendship. Is a friend someone you simply hang out with, or someone you entrust with your deepest, darkest secrets? Other people have examined this issue at length. Mobinah Ahmad has categorized six levels of frienshipJeremiah Creedon lists nineteen kinds of friends, and other articles have listed so many types that I’ve lost count and interest. Then there’s the science. Dunbar’s number suggests that humans are only capable of maintaining social relationships with 150 people, and that limit drops to five when it comes to close relationships.

I must admit that while I’m extremely attentive when I’m with people one-on-one, once most people are out of my sight, they are equally out of my mind. I think back to when we were kids, and Charlotte wanted, as all teenagers do, that nebulous thing called popularity. She wanted to be at the center of a large group, or at least on its periphery because this represented success. Adolescents are naturally insecure and therefore preoccupied with what others think of them. Having a lot of friends means validation. But this need for external validation from a large social circle clearly persists into adulthood for many. For me this is the folly of choosing quantity over quality, and with Dunbar’s scale in mind, I imagine that what other people consider friendships are really just glorified acquaintances.

Then again, just because I can’t handle a lot of social interaction, doesn’t mean others are similarly afflicted. My partner, BFG (BoyFriendGuy), is an extrovert and while he doesn’t seem to need a lot of friends, he puts a baffling amount of effort into maintaining relationships with an equally baffling variety of people. I’m being flippant, as obviously these relationships aren’t baffling to him. When I ask why he stays friend with the woman who always cancels on him last minute, he explains that she’s worth it because she’s a great conversationalist when she does deign to show up. When I ask why he’s friends with the man who can’t string two words together he explains that they enjoy practising karate together. Fair enough.

But I place no value on such interactions. They’re fine for someone with infinite energy but a waste of time for me. If I’m not going to be seeing someone on a regular basis I don’t see the point of investing in them. Sometimes even when I do see people on a regular basis I don’t bother to get to know them because why would I? I’ve often found, while hanging with so called friends, that most people aren’t really interested in having meaningful conversations, they are merely waiting for their turn to talk about the most mundane subject of all: themselves. (Hypocrisy alert!) But I want my friendships to have purpose. Interestingly, a day after I wrote a first draft of this post, BFG posted a video on Facebook from the Book of Life, about exactly that topic. (Scroll down for the video). Here was vindication that I’m not wrong for wanting a concrete reason to hang out with people.

Don’t get me wrong; meaningless hang outs can be fun but I’m not sure I would define those interactions as friendships. For me, a true friend is someone I would die for, someone I would kill for. Some recent self-analysis has led me to the conclusion that I only have space for one such person in my life at any given time. Currently, my one true friend is BFG. I’d say there are maybe two other people who’ve been my best friends in the past, for whom I’d still bury a body no questions asked, but I don’t see them very often anymore simply because we no longer live near one another, and our lives have followed different paths. And it’s probably a good thing that I don’t see these people that often anymore, because maintaining three true friendships would be a lot of work! One of the things I really value in my one true friendship, is that it’s a relationship wherein interacting doesn’t feel like work. Which is not to say that I don’t put effort into my relationship with BFG, it’s just that I can sit in silence with him and not feel anxious about it, as I would with nearly anyone else. Even though the definition I quoted at the top of this post doesn’t want me to think of a sexual partner as a friend, I maintain that everybody should strive to make their life partner their best friend. Honestly, what is the point of sharing your life with someone if you’re not the best of friends?

With this in mind I am definitely a good friend to BFG, as we are extremely well bonded and would both do anything for the other. But I am perhaps a bad friend to everyone else. If I’d been a “good friend” to Charlotte back in the day, then maybe she would have brought me along on her quest for high school popularity. If I’d been a “good friend” to my divorced coworker then I’d have been invited to her second wedding. But would my life have been enriched by high school popularity? Adolescence is when I began my journey of rejecting social norms and standards. Popularity would have only increased that pressure to conform. And do I really want to be friends with someone who is so plugged into those social norms that her second husband is a carbon copy of her first, both textbook cases of toxic masculity? The answer for this admitted elitist is no.

So yeah, I’m a bad friend according to most people’s definitions. I’ll never be the one who throws parties or organizes lunch dates or shopping trips or whatever else normal people do together. If I’m invited to said events I’ll go and I’ll have fun and I’ll listen to others complain about whatever’s wrong with their spouses, (which seems to be THE topic of conversation no matter who I’m with), but I won’t commiserate, because there’s nothing wrong with my spouse. My best friend is amazeballs and so is our friendship.

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Blue & Purple

You might not think at first that Blue and Purple would be good friends, perhaps because they are too similar. Both on the cool end of the spectrum, both collected and controlled. In other ways you might think they are too different. Blue is calm and down-to-earth, while Purple is passionate and regal.

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But the trick to getting these two colours to get along is to make sure one is a hue and the other is a shade. Or one could be a tint and the other a shade, or one a tint and the other a hue. That is to say, one colour is dominant, and the other is complimentary. Violet is quite content to be demure when paired with a show-stopper like cobalt, and the airiness of a powder or baby blue will work nicely with eggplant’s strength.

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The ideal date scenario for Blue and Purple is a sight-seeing ride in an ornate cycle rickshaw. Blue will suggest a bicycle ride but Purple is too much of a snob to power her own locomotion. The rickshaw is a compromise as Purple had wanted the romance of a horse-drawn carriage, but the dubious ethics of this are too much for Blue. They end up at a fine arts museum where Purple proceeds to explain all the paintings to Blue, and Blue politely nods, allowing Purple to pontificate so as not to offend her but still feeling the need to add her own two cents now and again, since she’s actually studied art history. Then they go to a fancy restaurant for dinner; Purple’s choice. Purple picks out the wine, but Blue suggests the appetiser. They discuss politics, religion, and current affairs but not their own relationship. They know they are not soulmates, and won’t spend their lives together, but they respect each other as intellectual equals and consider the date a success.

 

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August 6, 1991

Tuesday – We have been back for a few weeks or one and a half or whatever and I have got to call Genevieve and Jane.

It’s a wonder I’ve ever managed to maintain any friendships in my life since I’ve always been utterly incapable of using telephones, due to anxiety. Nowadays we have texting, which is a life-saver, but back then the thought of picking up a phone was panic-inducing. I doubt I ever called either Genevieve or Jane.

I got a letter from Marlene and am going to make her a comic of Mia + Avril.

                                     Mia and Avril were the alter egos my friend Marlene and I made up.  These alternate versions of us were, unfortunately, no more exciting than the real deal. I’m not sure if I ever made this promised comic. Somehow I doubt it.

On the vacation we went (on the last day) to Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, it was cool! And we also did some mini-put on the way back. In the States we also did mini=put, and I got a shirt, denim, and dad got a whole lot of stuff…

                                  Riveting. But you know, those family vacations we took when my siblings and I were kids were a lot of fun. All things considered we were a pretty functional family. We got along for the most part and all had a good time. Even my sister, who was, and continues to be, the black sheep because she’s more sensitive and emotional than the rest of us, was a good sport about those family vacays and the cheesy things we did. Good for us.

August 16, 1991 – Friday – Marlene called me yesterday and said for me to call her (answering machine got it) so we could arrange meeting before school starts. I had a dream last night. In it I met a guy… SIGH. He had shoulder length blon curly hair, gray-blue eyes and was he cute. His name was Alexandre, we were on my driveway, there was snow, a bunch of other stuff happened but I only want to remember him… SIGH.

                                Yes, sigh indeed. I actually remember that dream. It wasn’t exiting in any way but back then dreams and fantasies were pretty much the only things staving off my crippling loneliness. Real interactions certainly weren’t helpful.

School starts the 28th!

                               I don’t think this exclamation point was excitement so much as dread. Actually, I probably was excited to be starting at a new school, because there was room for hope. So even though it was a completely unnecessary move, I think it was a good thing for me to switch schools half way through my high school career. Even that short-lived hope probably helped me sleep at night throughout the summer.

I switched because my friend Jane wanted to and since (or so I thought) she was my only friend, I decided to go with her. Academically I justified it because the new school offered art in grade 10, while my old school didn’t. Looking back I sometimes wonder how things might have turned out differently if I hadn’t changed schools. I hated my first high school because I was lonely, but in retrospect I was well-liked and had people to sit with at lunch. At my new school I just tagged along with Jane, disliked her new friends, and felt even more awkward than ever. Honestly, in the end, it wouldn’t have mattered where I was because my environment wasn’t the problem, I was.

Ultimately switching schools was the right move because it forced my younger brother to then go to that school (it was easier on my parents to have both kids at the same place [my sister had moved on to college by then]), and he ended up making life-long friends there. So you’re welcome, Keith!

 

Orange & Blue

It was a sunny summer day. The sky was bright and the birds were chirping. Orange and Blue went to the park together to play Frisbee and eat ice cream while looking up at the clouds. Blue can be melancholy sometimes but Orange always cheers her right up. Blue gets brighter whenever she’s with Orange and together they make plans for all the amazing things they’ll do together.

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Orange and Blue are a classic case of opposites attract, sitting directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, their toes tickling each other and causing everyone around them to catch their infectious giggles. Together they are fun, loud, and amusing, but still reasonable. Blue is often too reasonable. When she’s navy she’s nearly boring, but a dash of something bright and cheerful makes everything better.

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Blue has a train to catch, because she needs to go on a long trip to contemplate her existence. She packs her bags thoughtfully as Orange dances around her and makes wild suggestions about what she might need to bring on her trip. At the last minute Orange begs to come along, and though Blue often enjoys solitude, she is happy to share her space, especially with someone so sunny and cheery. They sit on the train together, Blue calm and sedate, looking out the window at the scenery that goes by while Orange bounces up and down in her seat, commenting on everything she sees. Blue smiles and nods. Orange, excited to be there, squeezes Blue’s hand in excitement. Blue squeezes back and they smile at each other, utterly content.

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Trigger words

Do you have any trigger words? Words or expressions that offend you anytime you hear them used? There are the obvious ones, like racial slurs, but there are also less obvious terms that oftentimes people don’t even realize have problematic connotations.

We’re currently living in a time of increasing political correctness, of increased sensitivity to others’ triggers, but of course there’s also a backlash, with those decrying this new sensitivity as being overly PC, because it’s getting to the point where everything is offensive. Or at least every term with a negative slant is offensive, because duh. Obviously no one will be offended if you say, “that lecture was great!” But if you say, “that lecture was fucking stupid,” yeah, of course the person giving the lecture is going to be annoyed, you just insulted them. The problem arises when you insult not just the person you were trying to insult, but when you inadvertently insult an entire group of people who have nothing to do with the situation.

For instance, if you say “that lecture was retarded,” you’re not just insulting the lecturer, you’re insulting people with mental disabilities, and if that’s not your intention then you come across as at best, ignorant, and at worst, bigoted. I once had a lengthy discussion with someone who was defending her use of the R word, and she said she “doesn’t mean it that way”. But it doesn’t really matter how she means it, it matters how she’s coming across. No matter what you’re saying, you need to know what message you’re delivering, what message others are picking up on, not just the message you intended to send.

This same person was trying to defend her use of the N word. Yes, a middle-class white woman in her 30s. Her reasoning was that her step-kids use it all the time, supposedly in an ironic way, as though there is a way for a white kid to use a racial slur ironically. And clearly we should all take our social cues from teenagers. This woman claims to not be racist but if she’s using that word then she obviously is, or at least feels comfortable being perceived as such. I remember every single time in my life I’ve heard a white person use the N word, and if definitely influenced the way I perceived them. We all need to be aware of how we’re coming across.

But where do we draw the line? What about when words are used in the proper, dictionary definition, way, but can be perceived incorrectly? I’m thinking of someone I know who uses the word “retard” or “retarding” in the proper English language sense, as in, “this situation is retarding our progress,” meaning their progress is being slowed. And that is absolutely a valid use of that word. Unfortunately, this guy doesn’t hang out with English Lit majors, rather he hangs out largely with douche-bros whose first language isn’t even English. They think he’s saying the situation is retarded, and they’ll pipe up with, “yeah man, it’s totally retarded!” So now he’s set off a chain reaction of douchery. (I do defend my use of the word “douche” because both in the literal and colloquial sense it refers to something that touts itself as being good for a vagina, but is actually harmful.) My point is that even when words are being used correctly they can be perceived in hurtful ways, and we need to be aware of that.

I will now bring up a highly personal example. I tend to bristle anytime someone uses the word “anemic” to mean weak, as in “that was an anemic effort,” meaning “a poor effort”. Now that is the proper use of that word, according to the dictionary. But as someone who has anemia, I can’t help but cringe whenever I hear the word used in that way, because the implication is that to be what I am is a bad thing. And yeah, no one would choose to be “pallid,” or “sickly,” or “ashen,” but I am those things, and it’s never enjoyable to be reminded of how supposedly undesirable that is. Which I suppose is what inspired me to “reclaim” the word by calling this blog superanemic.

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Yet I’m not asking you to stop using the word anemic to mean weak. I realize that this is my personal issue. But I do sympathize with the those who advocate for eliminating all ableist language. I recently read a post on everydayfeminism about this topic, and found it very interesting because it brought up how even words that are now considered mundane, such as stupid, moron, and idiot, have a problematic history.

I have definitely used such words before without considering their impact. And while I take offense most strongly to sexist terms, like pussy being used to mean weak, it would be disingenuous of me to advocate for the elimination of such terms while ignoring terms that are bothersome to others. After reading that article I asked myself what words remain. What words can we use when we want to say something negative? And then that question brought up another one: why am I, why are all of us, so intent on using negative language in the first place? Why is it so important for us to find ways to insult others? Maybe, instead of finding more creative ways to insult people or situations, I should avoid the insult altogether and try to find positive ways to engage in conversations. Rather than complaining that a new project at work is fucking stupid, perhaps I should suggest alternatives to that project. And if I truly must express my dissatisfaction, perhaps the word dissatisfaction should be enough.

But it’s not enough, is it? There have been studies that examine the power of profanity, and they’ve shown that swear words do actually make people feel better in a way that ordinary words don’t. But for obvious reasons, swear words are often inflammatory. Terms like “fucked up” and “suck it” carry sexual connotations, implying that sex is necessarily negative and threatening, and maintaining those connotations make our society a more hostile place, by contributing to rape culture. But choosing words that won’t offend anyone completely misses the point of profanity. It really isn’t enough to say fiddlesticks when you stub your toe. If I’m pissed off, a good “motherfucker” makes me feel a lot better than pretty much anything else, even though I guess the term implies that mothers shouldn’t be sexual, and anyone fucking a mother is necessarily deviant?

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I know I’ll be accused of reading too much into words, but it would be foolhardy to underestimate the power of language. Sticks and stones may break my bones but seriously, insults hurt just as much.

And what about when problematic words are used in a positive way? What about saying “crazy” to mean cool? The kids today love saying “savage” to mean fiercely outrageous. I’m sure they’re not aware that this word carries derogatory connotations towards so-called primitive cultures. But even if they are aware, is it ok if they’re using it in a supposedly good way?

Honestly I don’t know. What do you think?